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Burned Philadelphia church is demolished

May 1, 2008 3:33:16 PM PDT
The Strawberry Mansion church left in ruins by fire yesterday is coming down. The walls came crumbling down today as crews demolished the charred remains of the Prince of Peace Baptist Church.

The house of worship on Berks Street was devoured by a massive 6-alarm fire that raced through the century old three story structure that was originally an elementary school. "I watched it in tears, " said 35 year old church member Richard Wells. "It's a lot of memories lost."

Seeing the church burn, then watching crews raze the sanctuary he practically grew up in, was difficult for Wells.

"It's all I know. It's all I know. I was raised here like my mother said, raised here since ... I was Born. Baptised when I was 5. Been member ever since," he said.

Witnessing the devastation was just as unsettling for Wells' mother Alice Chesney. She is one of 120 members at the church which runs a food kitchen, summer camp and adult education classes. "My heart is saddened. Very saddened. Like I say there's a lot of, lot of memories from this church. Actually from the building (itself) because I went to elementary school here."

Chesney was a member of Prince of peace church when it outgrew it's first home and moved to the Stokely school building in the 70's. She was married here and baptised her children here. Chesney's daughter Jolenna Wells has fond memories of the church as well.

"Growing up I remember running in the church yard, in the sanctuary. I was part of the youth choir," Wells said.

Investigators are trying to determine what sparked the massive fire. Church members and leaders vow to rebuild. But Pastor Robert Shipman spoke to a small group of church members who gathered today. "The sum total of our being can never be identified in a building, nor in anything that we possess," he said.

The church hopes to get city permit to hold its Sunday service in an outdoor tent a block from the church at 33rd & berks. Tomorrow at 6:45 p.m., a vigil is scheduled at that location.


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